RESPECT: The Poetry of Detroit Music

Image of RESPECT: The Poetry of Detroit Music
Release Date: 
March 24, 2020
Michigan State University Press
Reviewed by: 

“We are all invited to dance through this volume of writings that celebrate still the music and those moments of being alive.”

Resonate is a fitting co-word for the book’s Respect title, as 150 poets, song writers, and their poems and lyrics are gathered to celebrate the music and world of Detroit, one of the nation’s and world’s leading music cities. As the cover totes: “Grammy winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, and poet laureates. Included are icons such as Eminem, June Jordan, Fred “Sonic” Smith, Rita Dove, Jack White, Robbie Robertson, Paul Simon, Nikki Giovanni, Phillip Levine, Sasha Frere-Jones, Patricia Smith, Billy Bragg, Andrei Cordrescu, Toi Derricotte, and Cornelius Eady,” and many more serious poets.

Like listening to a replay of golden oldies on your radio, hearing these poems not only helps us recall songs and atmospheres, but brings insight to the musical scene and form. Music has always done this, but Detroit offers a special tone and beat of the streets. One can almost sing and dance to the lyrics, rhythms, and images here.

Editor-poets Jim Daniels and M. L. Liebler are native Detroiters deeply entrenched to the pulse and tone of their city. They provide a brief introduction of the origins of the scene and the coming together of their big book. “For all the national heat taken and the various autopsies of Detroit that have been performed over the decades, it is still the city that gave (and continues to give) the world some of its best music across all of the genres. In Respect we have made an honest attempt to be inclusive of musical genres and to feature the rich diversity of America’s poetic voices.” The book is truly collective and comprehensive.

Duke Fakir of The Four Tops provides a short foreword, noting how “A lot of the story of Detroit’s contemporary music scene started in the late 1950s, first with Little Willie John, John Lee Hooker, Jackie Wilson and then with The Motown Story.”

But the real sweetness is in the poems assembled here, as in Keith Taylor’s “Detroit Dancing, 1948”:

So I taught myself dancing,

downstairs, at home, in the old neighborhood,

humming “Moonlight Serenade” for rhythm,

waltzing the broom, my partner, from coal bin

to canning jars, learning to finish

with a flourish (dipping its bristled head

gently toward the cement), until I could

walk into any club anywhere in the city,

pick out any woman, turn her once

across the floor, and, if I didn’t sweep

her off her feet, I hear at least

(and this was almost enough, then)

that I was certainly light on mine.


Or, as Aretha Franklin sang it so well:

Detroit’s got it

What we need

You know we got it?

All we’re askin’

Is for a little respect . . .

We are all invited to dance through this volume of writings that celebrate still the music and those moments of being alive. A welcome addition to any collection.